Thomas Cool, Case of professional ethics

(See also the Dutch page.)

General desciption

I've worked at the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB) in the 1982-1991 period - and, for your understanding, the CPB is the Dutch counterpart to the US Council of Economic Advisors. Some fundamental insights had been developed at that bureau, notably by colleagues Van Schaaijk and Bakhoven, but these notions had no consequences on official publications. In 1989 I was involved in the CPB study "Netherlands in triplo" and "Scanning the future" (published in 1992), and in 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. It was obvious that continued unemployment in Western Europe would be detrimental to economic recovery in the East, and this suddenly made unemployment much more important than it had been before. So in November 1989 I wrote an internal memo proposing various economic reforms that might be considered as research projects not only for the final version of the long run study but also for the medium run. Since then the CPB directorate has actively blocked internal discussion and eventual publication of the analysis. Since this is a breach of the scientific code, I have advised Dutch parliament to investigate the situation. A small commission of Dutch scientists already concluded that there seems to have been too little room for discussion, and that the CPB directorate acted as judges in their own case. Since nobody further seems to care about it, it seems, paradoxically, that only parliament can make a real difference. But I write these lines also since we may still hope that economic scientists investigate the matter.

See the summary analysis on unemployment.

The April 1990 decision of the CPB directorate to transfer me to a room apart and to relieve me of my normal duties was killed by the courts in 1993, and it was judged an abuse of power. In 1998, the minister of Economic Affairs decided to accept that court decision. So I have been set apart only de facto and not de iure. My request whether there could not be a more serious investigation of what has happened, has been declined. Also, the courts have accepted my dismissal up to now, based on my de facto displacement, and without taking into account the 1998 decision.

Most material on the case is in Dutch. The main page states that I protest against the abuse against the integrity of science, and that I ask for your support for an investigation of the matter.

There is now my advice to boycott Holland till the case is resolved.

Please note

In judging these events, please make a distinction between (a) normal government officials, (b) economists in service of the government, and (c) economic scientists with a position with the government. Categories (a) and (b) have rules on hierarchy, and here the phenomenon of "whistleblowing" may occur. Category (c), which concerns my contract with the goverment., has the scientific integrity to deal with. Note, here, that there is no conflict between science and democracy. Though politicians may sometimes be unhappy with scientific findings and the procedures of the scientific process, they are better off to regard these as natural phenomena beyond their control - for otherwise we would no longer have a democracy.

Another point to keep in mind is that a scientist who advises a policy maker who has to make a decision on short notice, is in another position than the academic scientist who writes for a journal.

It will also be useful here to recall one of the key aspects of being a scientist: namely the responsibility to make up one's own mind. The scientist is in this respect as a judge. He or she has to balance all pro's and contra's, to review theories and facts, to replay all opinions of the colleagues, and then make a decision as to what he or she believes is the right thing to decide. To let one's opinion to be swayed by the opinions of others is unscientific.

Paper on prediction theory

What may also help you to understand the issue, see my paper on Metaprognostica.

Reaction of the profession

Up to now, the reaction of the economics profession is, basically, absent. Some examples are:
 This is a Net Conscience Page, version 1998-02-10, by Thomas Cool.